Ring by Koji Suzuki
Asakawa is a hardworking journalist who has climbed his way up from local-news beat reporter to writer for his newspaper’s weekly magazine. A chronic workaholic, he doesn’t take much notice when his seventeen-year-old niece dies suddenly – until a chance conversation reveals that another healthy teenager died at exactly the same time, in chillingly similar circumstances. Sensing a story, Asakawa begins to investigate, and soon discovers that this strange simultaneous sudden-death syndrome also affected another two teenagers. Exactly one week before their mysterious deaths the four teenagers all spent the night at a leisure resort in the same log cabin. When Asakawa visits the resort, the mystery only deepens. A comment made in the guest book by one of the teenagers leads him to a particular videotape. When he watches it, instead of a movie he finds an odd collection of disparate images with a portentous message at the end: Those who have viewed these images are fated to die at this exact hour one week from now. Asakawa finds himself in a race against time – he has only seven days to find the cause of the teenagers’ deaths before it finds him. The hunt puts him on the trail of an apocalyptic power that will force Asakawa to choose between saving his family and saving civilization.
Having already seen and enjoyed the Japanese film based on the book (and also seen and laughed derisively at the American re-make), I already knew the “secret” of Ring, but wanted to give the source material a try. I wasn’t disappointed.
Suzuki’s writing is terse without losing any of the required description for a good, all-round immersion in the action – his approach to writing seems to be to use exactly the right amount of words without prettying it up (at least, it comes over that way in the translation which seems rather good!). It’s a chilling read, but you don’t realise just how chilling until you’re a good way into it – it’s a deliciously slow build-up of tension – and by then you’re well and truly hooked.
The characters populating the plot are very believable and not all nice – they all have flaws (indeed, Ryuji comes across as being a bit of a pompous ass and occasionally a nasty piece of work), which adds to the whole feel and flow of things and is oddly endearing, even in the characters one comes to dislike!
Whether or not you’ve seen either version of the film, get hold of the book – it’s a really good example of the Japanese horror genre that will have you sleeping with the lights on and refusing to borrow videos off your friends in future!
Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite